Sunday, September 10, 2006

We are what we do

I got some feedback on the Trivium project I wrote about a few posts back, and a reader understandably resisted my connection between Dialectic and Deconstruction. McLuhan's history is in part an affective history, a Burkean "attitudes toward history," perhaps, and for him the categories of grammarian, rhetorician, and dialectician are defined largely by what people do and how they do it.

A dialectician, like Aristotle or Aquinas, is not only defined by their use of probable reasoning to solve a problem, but their larger project of close analysis, division, some might say, hair splitting. These attitudes are evident when dialecticians, grammarians, rhetoricians are discussed informally, but seldom included in scholarly accounts--as far as I can tell, at least. When they are applied, the (mis)characterized party is heartily offended.

But I digress.

I am what I do: I increasingly teach the production of new media (rhetoric), typically in the context of a broad understanding of new media / models (grammarian), and find myself increasingly drifting away from the critique of new media (dialectician). I feel the critique can be absorbed into the grammarian / rhetorical aspects, and that critique on its own is something I used to do, but found increasingly unsatisfying and untennable. Untenable? Where's the spell check!?

Contemporary dialecticians, undoubtedly, don't see it my way, and will continue to privilege critique, although also exploring production through innovative presentation of ideas (Derrida, Glas; Taylor and Essanin, Imagologies, and Ulmer, if he hasn't already switched over into the grammar / rhetoric camp).

As a publication directed at a journal on rhetoric, I suppose the way to approach this project is to acknowledge the ways in which most of are approaching New Media as rhetoricians, and then make an argument for the importance of not looking exclusively at the work being done by rhetoricians. Not an earth-shattering pronouncement in a field that is frequently interdisciplinary; I guess my angle here is actually that us rhetoricians have frequently been dialecticians even as we call ourselves rhetoricians--we offer more critique than production. Old argument too--is there anything new under the sun? Is anybody in the field a grammarian? That might be interesting? My sense here is that when we teach topics like "digital rhetoric" we rely on anthologies of scholarship, rather than anthologies of production. We teach from theory rather than practice. That might be a point to push and press.

Sooooo, what does the trivium offer us: a tradition of balance, a recognition of attitude, a way to acknowledge that we are what we do. Can anybody spell "circular"?


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